Turkey Hunting: The Shot and Next Steps

ArrayApril 15, 2021 at 9:46 am

The Department concluded a three-part spring turkey hunting panel discussion series on April 7, 2021. In the final episode of this series, three MDIFW staff members and avid turkey hunters retired Rec Safety Coordinator Reggie Read, Wildlife Special Projects Coordinator Bob Cordes, and current Rec Safety Coordinator Jasmine Pomerleau discussed the key features of the shot and after the shot.

Here’s a recap of that conversation: 

What are some safety considerations to keep in mind during the hunt?

According to Jasmine, it’s important to always remember basic firearm safety: always keep your gun’s muzzle pointed in a safe direction, always treat every gun as if it’s loaded, identify your target and beyond before firing, never climb or jump with a gun, and be aware of your surroundings. If you’re hunting with others, you have the added responsibility of being mindful of their hunting implement as well. Jasmine admits, it’s easy to forget some of the basics when you’re focusing on the hunt or in the excitement after taking a shot, but accidents can happen at any time. You can learn more about this by taking a hunter safety course (in-person or online). Hunter safety is required to purchase a hunting license in Maine.

What are some things to keep in mind as the bird comes into field of vision?

Reggie advises hunters to use a rangefinder, if they have one, to determine if you can comfortably and ethically take a shot. Take some time to consider shot placement. If you’re using a shotgun, you will want to aim for the neck area. Bob adds, when the tom is in strut, his neck will be tucked in, and this would not be an ideal time to take a shot. Be patient; wait for the neck to be exposed before firing. Don’t rush this—once you call in a bird and see some action, it can be very exciting. Take some breaths and be sure of your target.

Jasmine, who is primarily a bowhunter, has a different perspective. For bowhunters, shot placement is focused more on the major organs. Because bowhunting can be more of a challenge and requires better accuracy with the shot, she encourages anyone bowhunting—whether it’s with traditional archery equipment or a crossbow—to be sure you’re well-practiced with your equipment.

What if you miss or wound a bird? What should a hunter do?

Reggie encourages hunters who miss or wound a bird to not panic. If you believe you have missed the bird, but you’re not sure, listen. You might hear the bird crashing in the woods after it has run off. Give it some time and be sure to follow through. Go toward the direction of the bird and check for blood; see if you can track down the bird.

If you have injured a bird, this is not ideal, but can occasionally happen. While it’s not an experience anyone wants to have, it’s important to find and dispatch the animal as swiftly as possible either with a second shot or cervical detachment. If you believe you have injured a turkey, but cannot locate it, there are trackers with trained dogs who can help find it.

Reggie reminds hunters to know their limits. Don’t take a shot if you’re not certain you can be accurate at that distance. While it can be frustrating, it’s better to not take a shot than to injure an animal.

Let’s say a hunter fires and makes contact. What happens immediately after?

Bob and Reggie recommend having a plan for success:

  • Have a transport tag ready and know where the nearest tagging station is. Tagging and registering your harvested turkey is required.
  • Wild turkey is fantastic table fare with handled appropriately—get the bird on ice ASAP.
  • Do you want to take the bird to a taxidermist? After firing, as long as the spinal cord is intact, a bird may involuntarily move. If you would like to preserve the feathers or the meat from bruising, it’s important to try to secure the bird. Be careful, spurs are very sharp, so do not grab the bird with your bare hands or get close with your face.
  • There are many YouTube videos and online tutorials for breaking down a turkey—whether it’s for hunters or for those who have livestock they wish to butcher. Do some research.
  • Have a mentor: if you’re unsure or uncomfortable with the process, go hunting with someone who knows what they’re doing. This could be a friend, family member, or even a registered Maine guide.

What are some tips for cooking wild turkey?

Jasmine reminds everyone there are fantastic resources on the Department’s website for cooking wild game, check them out here. Additionally, she uses several popular resources for finding new recipes for wild game, including the MeatEater cookbooks. She reminds everyone there are different techniques for different cuts. Wild turkey can be tough if not prepared properly, so low and slow is usually the right method. As long as you cook turkey to the safe minimum temperature (165 Fahrenheit), it will be safe and delicious. But manage your expectations, wild turkey is not going to taste like the store-bought turkey you had on Thanksgiving. The best part of eating wild game: knowing you were responsible for harvesting this free-ranging, lean, and local protein source.

What’s important for hunters to keep in mind when it comes to sharing the story of their hunt?

Sharing your enthusiasm for hunting is the best way to engage non-hunters—but be mindful and respectful. For some, trophy hunting is a non-starter. While it can be frustrating as a hunter who is proud of the pay-off for their time and effort, the opinions of non-hunters who have had negative encounters with hunters may result in limitations and restrictions on hunting in the future. Instead of drawing a line in the sand, hunters should aim to be open and friendly about their experiences, especially with non-hunters and new hunters. When sharing a photo of your hunt on social media or presenting your harvest in a public area such as a tagging station, always make sure the blood is limited, and you are treating the animal with respect. Bob also encourages hunters to talk about the thrill and challenge of calling in a bird, the connection to nature, and the great table fare sourced during a hunt!

How can a hunter thank a landowner after a successful turkey hunt?

In previous panel discussions, panelists emphasized the importance of getting landowner permission—not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it can result in a more successful hunt. Landowners may know where on their property they’ve seen turkeys in the past and can help guide hunter’s scouting and hunting decisions. Thanking a landowner is important whether you successfully harvest a bird or not. Reggie encourages hunters to write a note and share photos. Reggie also suggests, if a hunter is successful, share your harvest!

What if someone doesn’t harvest a turkey? Can that hunt still be considered a success?

Jasmine’s advice to hunters who have yet to harvest a bird, don’t get discouraged. It may take years to get everything right, even then, there is some luck involved. Rather than consider the hunt unsuccessful because you didn’t harvest a turkey, consider it a success because you made the time to be outside. Perhaps you connected to your community by chatting with landowners. Maybe you made friends with a new mentor or mentee. You most certainly learned something that you didn’t know the year before. Have patience and don’t give up. Hunting is a lifelong journey, check out the Department’s next step hunting programs for tips, techniques, and support form the experts.

Read the rest of this three-part turkey hunting blog series:

Understanding Spring Turkey Behavior + Scouting Tips

Turkey Hunting Gear

Watch the panel discussion video series:

Spring Turkey Hunting Panel: Turkey Behavior + Scouting

Spring Turkey Hunting Panel: During the Hunt + After the Shot

Spring Turkey Hunting Panel: Gear + Calling